Why Did Salma Hayek Try to Silence Jessica Williams?

Jan 30, 2017
5:16 PM

Salma Hayek in 2014 (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

It’s been a tough few days for Salma Hayek. First off, she told Spanish-language media at the SAG Awards that Latinos Latinos messed up during the 2016 election (they didn’t). But the Mexican actress is also feeling some heat from other Latinas for what she told Jessica Williams at a Sundance Film Festival lunch that celebrated women in film.

Here are three excerpts from The Los Angeles Times. The first one was an account between Shirley MacLaine, Williams and Hayek:

“I have a question for you,” Williams, 27, said to MacLaine. “My question is: What if you are a person of color, or a transgendered person who —just from how you look—  you already are in a conflict?”

“Right, but change your point of view,” MacLaine offered. “Change your point of view of being victimized. I’m saying: Find the democracy inside.”

“I’m sorry,” Hayek said, jumping in. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Williams answered.

“Who are you when you’re not black and you’re not a woman? Who are you and what have you got to give?”

Williams took a deep breath. “A lot. But some days, I’m just black, and I’m just a woman,” she said. “Like, it’s not my choice. I know who I am. I know I’m Jessica, and I’m the hottest bitch on the planet I know.”

“No, no, no,” Hayek said. “Take the time to investigate. That’s the trap! …There is so much more.”

“Right,” agreed MacClaine. “The more is inside.”

Later in the story:

Williams, visibly uncomfortable, said she also wanted to encourage all of the women in the room to pay special attention to women of color and LGBT women. “I think we need to not speak over black women,” she said, “not assign them labels.”

“What does this mean, ‘speak over?’” Hayek asked.

“To project your ideas on me,” Williams said. “I think there is a fear that if we present an idea that, ‘Hey, maybe [black women] have it a little bit harder in this country’ because we do; black women and trans women do— if we’re having it a little bit harder, it doesn’t invalidate your experience. I really am begging you to not take it personally.”

Then there was this:

“Can I interrupt, because I feel misunderstood,” Hayek agreed. “It’s not shutting you up. I feel misunderstood on one point: We should be also curious about our brain. By being the best that you can be. That’s what I was trying to say to you. Let’s not just spend all the time in the anger, but in the investigation.”

“Baby, I’m Mexican and Arab,” she went on, addressing Williams. “I’m from another generation, baby, when this was not even a possibility. My generation, they said, ‘Go back to Mexico. You’ll never be anything other than a maid in this country.’ By the head​s ​of studios! There was no movement. Latino women were not even anywhere near where you guys are. I was the first one. I’m 50 years old. So I understand.”

“You don’t understand,” Williams said, shaking her head quietly.

As expected, Twitter reacted to this exchange:

Here’s the thing: We completely understand that Hayek had problems getting cast for roles, but her comments in response to Williams really serve no purpose. Someone like Hayek needs to take a moment and realize she came across as insensitive and out of touch. Dismissing Williams’ feelings AND upping the Oppression Olympics card just didn’t work. They also speak to the ugliness of anti-Blackness in the Latino community. And the privilege, oh the privilege. Maybe Hayek should have listened more to Williams instead of just patronizing her?

And then you wonder when we still have problems.